RIGA - With events to satisfy any taste happening every few days in July, the Baltics transform into festival central. From Ollesummer Beer Festival in Estonia to Tundra Electronic music festival in Lithuania, a tradition common to all Baltic States is that of the Song and Dance Festival, historically playing an important part in the formation of the countries’ cultural identities. This year Latvia hosts its tenth youth version of the event, the Latvian Youth Song and Dance Festival. Held in and around Riga every five years since 1960, this year the event kicks off on July 6 and will go on for five days gathering participants from all over the country. Organized by the Ministry of Education and Science, the event receives state funding and sponsor support.
Similar to its “big sister” the national Song and Dance Celebration, the festival brings together choirs, dance groups and orchestras to perform separately and in joint concerts planned months in advance and rehearsed but a few times all together before the real shows. This year marks a special moment in the festival’s history as, for the first time ever, it’s been added to the UNESCO celebration list.
The main venues this July will be Vermanes Garden, Mezaparks and Riga Congress Hall amongst others. A warm-up event for the festival will take place at the Olaine Stadium on July 3. With a performance entitled “Lozna, lozna caur zaru zariem” (“Ramble through the branches”) referencing an ancient folk song and game, the show will involve 660 dancers and 30 singers from nine municipal areas. Arguably the most spectacular features of the program will be the choir finale on July 10, in Mezaparks, and the folk dance show at Daugava Stadium on July 11, gathering 12,500 participants each.
During festival preparations, a team of judges travelled across Latvia to award the best youth choirs, folk dance groups and orchestras. They will have their chance to shine during the event with special concerts and shows gathering only the winning groups.
This year will be a special year for the SOS Children’s center, a home for children who have lost their parents. The home’s folk dance group, practicing together for only two years, has proved its skill and will take part in the festival.
The celebration would not be the same without its foreign participants. On July 8, choirs and a dance group from Russia, Germany, The Netherlands and Georgia will be putting on a free show at the Latvian University’s Main Hall to share their traditions and express their support towards the preservation of such historically intrinsic cultural celebrations.
The festival organizers have put in a special effort this year to make as little an impact on the environment as at all possible for an event of its size. In preparation for the occasion, participants have been working to reduce their household waste, recycling, planting trees and feeding animals during the coldest winter months. During the festival various non-governmental organizations will set up stalls to inform and educate people about leading a “green” lifestyle.
Tickets for all festival shows are available countrywide at Bilesu Paradize ticket offices or at their online address.
Those not able to participate or watch the events take place on the spot will be able to follow the festival on television with the biggest performances being broadcasted live, and a special show dedicated to the event hosted by Latvia’s one-time Eurovision stars Valters & Kaza.
This year Latvian youth aged 14 to 21 also had the chance to take part in the “Mantojums” (“Legacy”) project to find thirteen young and motivated journalists to report on festival preparations across the country. Their documentary videos can be seen online at the festival’s official YouTube channel DZIEDUNDEJO.